Just as One Time Bells distanced the French Kicks from their messy garagey/post-punky beginnings, The Trial of the Century finds them moving even farther away from loud drums and guitars. Instead, they deliver a prettier, more restrained sound that suggests a fusion of New Order's crooning vocals and the Cars' restless rhythms -- they started out being influenced by one aspect of '80s music and now take inspiration from a different side of that decade's sound. Indeed, the skipping rhythm and twinkling guitars and keyboards on "Oh Fine" would do Tears for Fears proud, and "Following Waves" sounds a little like the synthier side of Talking Heads crossed with the Kicks' own previous highlight, "Close to Modern." But unlike many other contemporary bands that borrow from synth pop and new wave, the French Kicks don't sound stranded in the '80s. Like a less electronic version of the Postal Service, on The Trial of the Century the band invokes nostalgia for that decade but puts it in a different context. The album's centerpiece, "Was It a Crime," uses cheesy synth string and brass sounds to give the song a strange majesty that adds to its poignancy. Aside from the bouncy opener "One More Time," initially most of the album tends to sound more like watercolor sonics than immediate songs, another departure from Young Lawyer and One Time Bells. The lack of loudness may disappoint some longtime French Kicks fans -- "Yes I Guess" comes the closest to the band's old sound, but even then it's far quieter and more polished than anything from their previous releases. Still, the band's new direction isn't impossible to reconcile with their older work -- their songs have always had a pop heart, and the mix of keyboard-laden, low-key rock and lighter-than-air pop on The Trial of the Century sounds fresher, or at least less easily dated, than a lot of the garage rock, synth pop, and post-punk rehashings of their contemporaries. Granted, the downright sophisticated-sounding pop of "You Could Not Decide" and the gorgeous closing track, "Better Time," might not be an expected sound from the French Kicks, but sometimes this kind of surprise can be the best thing a band can do. Better yet, after the surprise of it fades, The Trial of the Century is still a subtly striking album that only gets better with repeated listening.
The Trial of the Century Review
by Heather Phares